On listening tour, Stefanik draws questions about farms and costly healthcare

On listening tour, Stefanik draws questions about farms and costly healthcare
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Rep. Elise Stefanik talks with voters during a two-day series of “Coffee with Your Congresswoman” events. Photo: Brian Mann

Last week Congresswoman Elise Stefanik made a public tour of the North Country, meeting with people in open sessions in Watertown, Governeur, Plattsburgh and Schuylerville.

In our coverage, we focused on Stefanik’s reactions to the Mueller investigation.  This morning we’re circling back to hear some of the other issues the Congresswoman heard about from voters. 

People raised topics ranging from the future of Social Security to wind farm subsidies, but the two big themes that came up repeatedly were farms and healthcare costs.  Brian Mann was at three of the meetings and joined Martha Foley to talk about what he heard.

Farms want help from Congress with trade, lab0or

Martha:  Let’s start with farms.  What was Congresswoman Stefanik hearing from voters?

Dairy cows in Canton, NY. Photo: Nora Flaherty

Dairy cows in Canton, NY. Photo: Nora Flaherty

Brian:  Really that farms in the North Country are in crisis, with super low dairy prices and also low prices for crops like corn and soy beans.  She got an earful about the Trump administration, which has disrupted longstanding trade agreements with countries like China, Canada and Mexico. 

“We’re seeing 1990s prices right now for corn and soybeans, we’re just not selling enough overseas,” said Julia Robins with North Harbor Dairy in Sackets Harbor.  She urged Stefanik to push harder to repeal tariffs with China and to help ratify a modernized trade deal with Canada and Mexico.  “We really need to get that pushed through for crops and dairy,” she added.

Farm issues came up again and again, from tariffs and exports to immigration and the difficulty farmers face bringing in labor.

Martha:  What did Stefanik say?

Brian:  This is an area where Stefanik really differs from President Trump and many other Republicans.  She talked about the need for comprehensive immigration reform and she opposes Trump’s idea of a big wall along the entire US-Mexico border.  She also really talked up the importance of locking in a new traded deal with Canada and Mexico.

“USMCA [The US-Mexico Canada Agreement] needs to be a top priority to get done.  I’m concerned that Democrats don’t want to give the President a win on this,” Stefanik said. “I will be one of the strongest voices for USMCA.  On tariffs, I take a very different approach from the President.  I view tariffs as a form of taxation.”

As Affordable Care Act becomes new ‘normal,” people want help with drug prices

Stefanik met with hundreds of constituents across the vast NY21 House district, which stretches from the Canadian border to the upper Hudson Valley.  Photo:  Brian Mann

Stefanik met with hundreds of constituents across the vast NY21 House district, which stretches from the Canadian border to the upper Hudson Valley. Photo: Brian Mann

Martha:  Let’s turn to healthcare.  Not so long ago Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, was the big hot issue at meetings like this, with some people passionately in favor, some people opposed.  What did you hear this time?

Brian:  The Congresswoman drew some criticism again on this tour for her vote along with other Republicans to dismantle the Affordable Care Act before her party had come up any kind of plan to replace it with something new. 

But I have to say what’s interesting to me is how much this just doesn’t seem to be an issue anymore.  Tens of thousands of people in the North Country use Obamacare, it’s kind of baked in now to how healthcare works.  It just doesn’t feel controversial and Stefanik herself doesn’t bring it up much. 

What mostly came up at these meetings was people wanting more help on healthcare, especially help from the government bringing down prescription drug prices.  Here’s Phil Reed, he’s a county legislator in Jefferson County.

“I have a disabled son that would benefit from being on a growth hormone, the insurance companies won’t cover it, it’s $3,000 a month,” said Phil Reed, a county legislator in Jefferson County.  “It would really promote the quality of his life.  Some help on that would be greatly appreciated.”

Some people want the freedom to important prescription drugs from Canada where they’re often cheaper and they want the government to negotiate with Big Pharma to bring prices down.

Martha:  How did Stefanik react?

Brian:  She promised to help.  She supports this idea of Congress passing a law that would allow Medicare to use its buying power to negotiate cheaper drug prices.

“We have to address the prescription drug cost crisis in this country,” Stefanik said.  “I support Medicare being able to negotiate drug prices.  I think that will help lower costs and I’ve been consistent in that position.”

One other healthcare issue that came up repeatedly was veterans in the district who get their healthcare from the VA.  Stefanik said her staff spends a lot of time focusing on helping people with the VA bureaucracy.

 



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